Bullying: Media Coverage, Research and Health Initiatives – why can’t they be more linked?
The suicide of young Amanda Todd in BC was a tragic case of cyber bullying that shocked not only the province, but had resonating impacts across the country as she shared her pain with the country before ending her life. As her family and friends struggled to come to terms with her premature death, online comments making light of her death and blaming her for being bullied continued on social media sites (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/10/14/bc-amanda-todd.html). Within one month of this tragic event, the BC government announced the launch of a new online reporting tool designed to let young people anonymously report those who abuse or intimidate them (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/11/13/bc-video-anti-bullying-website.html).
The ‘Expect Respect and Safe Education’ (ERASE) Bullying website (http://www.erasebullying.ca/) is a health promotion website that is targeted at Youth, Parents and school. It includes a reporting tool that allows youth to anonymously report on bullying. It also educates caregivers, parents and schools on what bullying is and provides advice for creating safe school communities. The website also points to Policy resources and legislation that are in place to prevent bullying and violence in schools.
The ERASE Bullying “Policy to Action” component of the website is designed to help make ‘B.C. a leader in addressing bullying and harmful behaviours”. The strategy includes amongst other items increasing education for educators and community partners and stronger codes of conducts for schools. Additional suggestions are made to educate teachers. Though I agree that teachers do need training to help them properly deal with bullying the classroom, the burden of the responsibility should not be placed on them. They frequently work with large class sizes and work with diverse students with a range of social and academic needs. Though the strategies suggested are valid, they don’t seem sufficient. The website points to legislation that is targeted towards enhancing safe schools and youth violence that have been in place since 2004. This legislation is focused primarily on penalizing youth. While I do not wish to detract from these initiatives as they have their place and use, the heart of the issue surrounding bullying and violence seems largely untouched and the effectiveness of these policies and legislation seems to be limited.
Research about children’s mental health has shown that early child development programs for high-risk families and parent training is effective treatment and prevention of conduct disorder, or severe antisocial behaviour while incarceration and punishment have been shown to be ineffective and potentially harmful (Waddell et al., 2005). However, the ERASE initiative, as most bully initiatives, remain focused on the victim and ensuring those perpetrating the acts of bullying are caught and reprimanded (e.g. http://www.stopabully.ca/). Though I am far from an expert in this field, I wonder what programs and support systems are in place to work with those youth that exhibit bully behaviour? More resources within schools that deal with youth mental health are required to deal with youth at both ends of the spectrum; simply dealing with the outcomes of bullying is not a sufficient tactic for dealing with this continued health issue so prevalent in schools and amongst youth. Why has research in children’s mental health not had a greater impact on the way we address this issue?
Waddell, C., Lavis, J.N., Abelson, J., Lomas, J., Shepherd, C.A., Bird-Gayson, T., Giacomini, M., and Offord, D.R. (2005). Research use in children’s mental health policy in Canada: Maintaining vigilance amid ambiguity. Social Science & Medicine. 61: 1649-1657.